We’ve heard the argument a thousand times over; Anthony Stolarz has too small of a sample size for us to believe he can be an NHL-caliber goalie. I’m here to say screw the small sample size, Stolarz has shown the fans, and hopefully Flyers’ brass enough for us to trust him at the NHL level.
Stolarz has played in 13 NHL games. Yes, 13 is not a lot compared to Michal Neuvirth’s 251 or Brian Elliott’s 429. However, what he has done in those 13 games has been enough to prove that he can be a solid option going forward for the Flyers, at least until Carter Hart is ready to take the reigns.
As a starter, Stolarz has shown that he may not be the elite goaltender that the Flyers have lacked for so long, but he can play damage control if the proverbial ish hits the fan. Case in point, Stolarz gave up two goals to the Buffalo Sabres in the first period of their game this past Saturday afternoon. Following Jack Eichel’s second tally of the contest, no Sabre saw the back of the net. Stolarz kept his team in the contest with some remarkable saves, and allowed the Flyers to claw back into the contest, and then some, and prevail with a score of 6-2.
The biggest drawback to Stolarz right now is how he will hold up after coming off of his second major knee surgery in as many years. So far, so good. He’s been stellar as a starter, not so much as a reliever. Given, Neuvirth didn’t do him any favors, laying a deuce against a dangerous Winnipeg Jets team and forcing Stolarz into action for the second straight day, but Stolie the Goalie has proven that he can bounce back.
In his 13 games at the NHL level, Stolarz has a 4-2-2 record with a .913 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.67. What will stick out is how he did in his first stint with the Flyers during the 2016-17 season. Stolarz saw seven games during his time with the orange and black, and played exceptionally well for a rookie. he posted a .928 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.07.
This season, with a lackluster defense in front of him, Stolarz has a goals against average of 3.39, and a save percentage of .898. Not the greatest stat line, but the intangibles are definitely in his favor. He’s quicker post-to-post than Lehigh Valley Phantom Alex Lyon. He has posted better numbers than now ex-Flyer Calvin Pickard. Stolarz has all the tools to be a successful goaltender with the Flyers, even if the defense in front of him doesn’t do him any favors.
Comparing career numbers, Stolarz is leaps and bounds better than Calvin Pickard, so letting him get claimed via waivers was a risk the Flyers were willing to take. Michal Neuvirth and his plethora of ailments over the past few years has seemingly opened the door to the backup position behind embattled veteran Brian Elliott, who is dealing with his own injuries as well. When Elliott is healthy, however, he is most definitely the better option over Neuvy.
Elliott’s career numbers include a save percentage of .913, .908 with the Flyers, and a goals against average of 2.45, 2.65 with the Flyers. Neuvy’s stat line is somewhat similar with a .911 career save percentage, .910 with the Flyers, and a goals against average of 2.68 career, 2.57 with the Flyers. The fact that Michal Neuvirth gets hurt more than a teenage girl’s feelings doesn’t bode well for his future. Add in the emergence of Anthony Stolarz, and you can all but wave goodbye to Neuvy as he packs his bags and hits 95 out of town.
The fact that Michal Neuvirth has played in 83 games for the Flyers in 4 years is pitiful. Elliott is only two years in, and has 57 games under his belt for the orange and black. If the Flyers were smart, they would let Stolarz stick around over Neuvirth, play 1B to Elliott’s 1A when he gets healthy, and ride it out with him on the roster.
With new General Manager Chuck Fletcher taking over, now’s the best time for Stolarz to get hot and prove he’s worth his weight in gold, or at least worth more than Michal Neuvirth.
Stolarz has shown that he can outperform veterans that the Flyers bring in (Pickard), and the AHL starter (Lyon). He has earned a shot to prove himself, again, at the NHL level, and so far, so good. He’s a young guy, big body, and could be a cheap option to man the crease for a Flyers team desperately waiting for Carter Hart to develop into the goaltender we all want him to become.
We’ve seen the worst that can happen when we rely on mediocre goaltending to try and get by until the starters are healthy, it’s time to acknowledge the good play of Anthony Stolarz, and give him the keys to the broken down Buick that has smoke flowing from the engine, and see if he can get this thing running again.
Mandatory Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports